Last season, injuries took their toll on the Redskins defense. Junior Galette was lost for the season after tearing his Achilles in camp. Duke Ihenacho was lost early with a broken bone in his hand. Chris Culliver suffered yet another knee injury and was placed on IR after just six games. DeAngelo Hall was recovering slowly from a torn Achellies suffered in the offseason, and didn't look 100 percent until the second half of the season. Adam Heyward was lost for the season after tearing an ACL in the preseason. Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley were banged up during the season, and Terrance Knighton was dealing with migraines for the first half of the season.
To say it was a rough start to the Joe Barry era in DC would be an understatement.
2016 saw a slow start to free agency for the Redskins. The only signings to bolster the defense early on were defensive end Kendall Reyes, and safety David Bruton. The Redskins did re-sign Junior Galette, Mason Foster, Duke Ihenacho and Will Blackmon, but these moves didn't excite the fan base. There was actually more attention to who the team didn't re-sign(Knighton and Robinson) and who got released(Hatcher, Johnson and Goldson) than the new additions.
On April 22nd, the tides changed. The Redskins made the biggest offseason signing of 2016, when they inked All-Pro corner Josh Norman, who unexpectedly became available after the Panthers recinded the franchise tag they placed on him in Feburary. A little over a week later, the Redskins released Chris Culliver. The Redskins defense had improved overnight, and fans had a reason to be optimistic for the 2016 season.
The 2016 NFL Draft saw the Redskins go defensive with their second, third and fifth round picks, selecting linebacker/safety Su'a Cravens, corner Kendall Fuller and defensive linemen Matt Ioannidis respectively. They used one of their two seventh round picks on linebacker Steven Daniels.
In Cravens, the Redskins got a nickel linebacker, who can also immediately contribute on special teams. The defense has had problems defending the pass, and his presence should help bolster a linebacker unit that struggles with athletic tight ends and running backs. His role for the future is still a bit unclear, but his versatility should be a welcome addition for Barry, who can use him in many different packages from a few different positions.
Kendal Fuller, who the Redskins selected in the third round, may turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the draft. He is a first round talent who slipped because of a knee injury that required micro-fracture surgery, and held him out of workouts prior to the draft. Had he been healthy, he would have likely been a later first to early second round pick. He should be 100 percent entering training camp next month, and can compete immediately at nickel corner and on special teams.
Fans sat and watched as the Redskins bypassed defensive linemen early in the draft. Finally, Scot McCloughan went to the well in the fifth when he selected Temple defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis. The versatile defensive lineman, who brings a workman-like mentality to the field, can play all three techniques along Barry's front, and should be part of a fairly deep defensive line rotation this season.
Daniels figures to be a back-up linebacker early on, who will need to make his mark on special teams to earn a roster spot. He will be a likely candidate to start his career on the practice squad.
So, have the Redskins done enough this offseason to position themselves to be a top 10 overall defense in 2016?
Chris Baker, Kendall Reyes/Stephen Paea and Kedric Golston figure to be the starting front three in our base 3-4. Ziggy Hood, converted defensive linemen Trent Murphy(who has bulked up to around 290 pounds), and Ioannidis should provide great depth.
Outside linebacker should be the strength of the defense, where Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan, Junior Galette, and rising second year player Preston Smith combine to form one of the best pass rushing trios in the NFL.
Inside linebacker still has some questions heading into the season, but Su'a Cravens should help answer some, and Joe Barry should have no trouble finding creative ways to use the talented rookie. Riley, Compton and Foster should provide enough athleticism from the position to make plays all over the field.
The secondary, which has been a seive the last few years, could actually be a strength of the team in 2016. The Redskins now boast a top 5 unit at cornerback, with starters Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland, being backed up by Quinton Dunbar, Kendall Fuller and Dashaun Phillips. The safeties should be improved from last season, as DeAngelo Hall will be a full-time starter at free safety, with Bruton and Ihenacho battling to take over at strong safety. Veteran Will Blackmon should see plenty of time at both safety and nickel corner, and his leadership and intelligence should help this secondary take a big step forward.
Although our defensive line and linebackers lack big name players, we can certainly make up for that in the pass rush department and secondary. The overall talent of this defense is the best I've seen in years, and should that talent translate to the field, this unit could turn out to be very special.
Just how special?... only time will tell.